Mladic on trial for 'war crimes'
Published 15/05/2012 | 12:52
Twenty years after Serb forces unleashed a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, their military commander General Ratko Mladic is finally going on trial on charges of masterminding atrocities throughout the country's devastating 1992-95 war.
Mladic will enter the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal as a frail 70-year-old, a far cry from the swaggering general who commanded Serb forces during the war that left some 100,000 people dead.
"I don't have to tell you how important it is that finally this trial can start 17 years after the first indictment was issued (against Mladic)," said the court's Belgian chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz.
For years after the war Mladic was an elusive fugitive and one of the world's most-wanted men. His time on the run finally ended last year when Serbian forces arrested him near Belgrade and flew him to The Hague.
He has been waiting for his trial in the same jail as his former political leader, Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 and is now at the midway point of his own trial on almost identical charges to Mladic.
"We would of course have preferred having both before the same judges, one being the political architect of the crimes allegedly committed, the other the military leader of this policy," Mr Brammertz said.
Both men are accused of leading Bosnian Serb forces responsible for atrocities that started with a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1992 and climaxed in July 1995 with Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War, the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the northern enclave of Srebrenica. They also are charged in the deadly campaign of sniping and shelling during the 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo.
The man seen as the overall architect of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in his cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could deliver verdicts in his trial.
Mr Brammertz said prosecutors will present testimony from more than 400 witnesses, though most of their testimony will take the form of written statements presented to judges. Prosecutors have a total of 200 hours to present their case before Mladic begins his defence.
If he is ultimately convicted, Mladic faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Since Mladic was first indicted at the height of the fighting in Bosnia, international law has progressed and the permanent war crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Court, has indicted heads of state and warlords.